Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Give us our daily bread

In the article on paleo dieting that I linked to the other day, I came across this comment:
And totally cutting out grain? Utterly ridiculous. The loaf of bread has been a staple of the kitchen table for thousands of years. To think that it somehow needs to go in order to control blood sugar, etc. is ridiculous and only a properly conducted, double blind scientific study would prove to me otherwise (and not some pseudo-scientific article in a nutritional magazine). One's entire diet needs to be geared towards eating products that aren't packaged, refined or processed.
It's true that we have been eating bread as a staple for thousands of years. Yet it wasn't this:

Here in Canada, our wholewheat bread is made from whole grain from which the germ has been removed in order to delay rancidity.  It's essentially very similar to white bread with fibre.  Here is a list of ingredients in 100% whole wheat Wonder bread:
Whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% of less of: soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness).
Until very recently, bread was much more likely to be bread made with just 4 ingredients:  whole grain wheat, salt, yeast and water.  That's a far cry from the commercial bread that is commonly eaten by most people, and which is recommended by our nutritional authorities.

To be perfectly honest, I would find it difficult to engage in a debate with somebody about a low carb grain-free diet as outlined in this site vs. a very natural, fresh, locally grown diet that includes modest portions of pure (not commercial) whole grain bread. 

Bear in mind that my debating skills are poor because I tend to see the good points in both sides of almost every argument instead of tenaciously clinging to my own side come hell or high water.

Having said that, I do believe the low carb/no grain side has an important trump card that isn't sufficiently understood by the mainstream "balanced dieters":  according to Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist who writes extensively about medical issues associated with the consumption of wheat, virtually all the wheat grown today is dwarf Triticum aestivum, which was developed in the 1960's and 1970's.  He claims this variety of wheat contains signficantly more gluten protein than older wheat varieties.  It is the gluten that causes many of the medical issues he is concerned about.  In addition to wheat causing an opiate-like addiction, he links it to increased diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), as well as increased small LDL, greater inflammatory responses (e.g. arthritis and gout), and so-called "wheat bellies" which are manifestations of excessive visceral fat.

Sound far fetched?  Maybe , if you've never considered this before.  However, it doesn't surprise me.  Even though I don't have celiac disease, I personally find I have noticeably less inflammatory pain than I used to, and I definitely feel better without wheat in my diet.  Of course I can't prove this wasn't a psychological or placebo reaction, but there are other people who also feel healthier when they stay away from wheat and grain products. 

I do realize bread is an important and convenient staple in most people's homes.  Not eating wheat products takes a little getting used to, and involves reorganizing the way we eat.  But those of us who have given it up tend to feel healthier, and after the initial withdrawal period (it was about 5 days for me), the attraction of bread noticeably diminishes.  I can honestly say that the smell of a loaf fresh from the oven doesn't do the same for me that it used to before I gave it up.

And lastly, if you're one of those people who can't even imagine life without bread, loaves don't grow in the ground.  As much as it is a staple, bread is also a processed food. 


  1. I have taken wheat and other carbs out of my diet, and I am noticing several positive differences with the main one being lost weight. When I reach my goal weight, I do plan to add bread back in on a minimal basis. I have a wheat grinder and make the bread myself. Hopefully, this would be all right to have in moderation. The white flour and sugar will be gone permanently, however.

  2. Katie, I started my "diet" with similar intentions. For me, the big difference in addition to losing weight was noticeably less joint discomfort. Since both my mother and her sister have terrible arthritis, I live in fear of facing a similar fate as I age. For this reason, I don't foresee going back to eating grain products. However, maybe it doesn't have the same effect on everyone.

  3. Phillipa, I am glad to have found your blog. I am a fan of Taubes, Sisson, et al. I agree that bread is one of the stumbling blocks for lots of people, including me. I still occasionally have a slice of Julian Smart Carb bread (1carb), or make the low carb Bob's Red Mill loaf. Sometimes I just want a piece of toast with my runny egg. Having owned that, I eat almost no bread compared to my pre-lc days when it was every meal. For years I baked all the bread we ate, and that was hard to let go of, even though I know it was needed. Glad to see your posts on Taubes' blog, and find this one.

  4. Thank you, Nancan. I'm convinced this approach works differently for everyone, and personally I'm not a big fan of vowing never to eat any one particular food again. That rigidity is bound to end in failure for most people.

    It's interesting that you are also a bread baker. Did you also find, like I did, that the pleasure you derived from baking bread diminished with time? The smell of a fresh loaf doesn't attract me as it used to. That's something I'm very grateful for.

  5. The smell still talks to me, but the taste of bread no longer does a lot for me. I think bread baking, cooking generally, often is about connecting with one's roots. My mother was considered a wonderful cook, and I think I aspired to be a good cook, too. My daughter likes to cook, and even my grand-girls age 9 are into cooking. I'm showing them healthy alternatives like Nutty Yummies, our name for nut butter balls. So the food changes, but the connection can remain.